From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present


51° 0′ 57.6″ N 4° 12′ 32.4″ W

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Bideford is a historic port town on the estuary of the River Torridge in north Devon.

The manor of Bideford was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as held at some time in chief from William the Conqueror by the great Saxon nobleman Brictric, but later held by the king's wife Matilda of Flanders. They were in control of 30 villagers, 8 smallholders and 14 slaves in Bideford.

A charter was granted in 1272 to Richard V de Grenville by King Henry III, which created the town's first council. In ancient records Bideford was recorded as a borough but has only returned members to Parliament during the reigns of Edward I and Edward II.

The Grenville family were for many centuries lords of the manor of Bideford and played a major role in the town's development. The monument with an effigy of Sir Thomas Grenville exists in St Mary's Church.

Sir John Granville, helped restore Charles II to the throne, and in 1661 Charles made Sir John Granville Baron Granville of Bideford and Earl of Bath.

During the English Civil War, Bideford stood with the Parliamentarians against the Royalist forces of Charles I. Following a series of Royalist successes in the South West during 1643, the Parliamentarians withdrew into Bideford and its two small fortresses, one of which was Chudleigh Fort. Here they were besieged. After further Royalist victories it became clear that Bideford would not be relieved, and in August 1643 it was stormed by Royalist forces. Following fierce fighting around the two forts, the town fell.

In 1646, 229 people in the town were killed by the plague. It was suggested that a Spanish vessel laden with wool which docked at the quay may have brought this plague to Bideford, and that it was children playing with the wool who first got infected with the plague. Victims were buried from 8 June 1646 to 18 January the next year.

In the 16th century the merchant and ship owner John Strange was born in the town. When he was in his youth, he fell from a cliff yet did not suffer any injury, then later on in his life someone fired an arrow at his forehead, but it did not penetrate his skull, and the only lasting damage was a scar. Once a malicious person tried to throw him over the Long Bridge, the walls of the bridge being very low, but was unexpectedly and luckily interrupted.

The Bideford witch trial in 1682 involved three women, Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles and Susannah Edwards, accused of witchcraft and which resulted in one of the last hangings for witchcraft in England.

In 1816 a mob forced their way into Bideford prison to try and break out some of the mob's ringleaders, and soldiers from the Royal North Devon Yeomanry had to be mustered, and then patrolled the town, where they arrested several members of the mob who were then escorted to Exeter.

In 1942, American GI's arrived in Bideford. At first they were there to work in radar stations across North Devon and work on experimental equipment such as the The Great Panjandrum, were said to be viewed in the area in secret by Dwight D. Eisenhower and Sir Winston Churchill at the Strand Cinema. In 1943, D-Day training had begun at beaches across North Devon. During the war Bideford Ordnance Experimental Station Depot O-617 was set up to experiment on waterproofing equipment for the D-Day landings.

The original Long Bridge spanning the River Torridge connecting the East and West of the town was said to have been built out of timber in the year 1286. In 1474 the original structure was replaced by the masonry arch bridge seen today. The bridge was built around the timber so people could still use it while construction was taking place, possibly resulting in the 24 arches all being of different sizes. In 1790 the bridge was the longest in Devon.